Advocates Seek More Assistance For Mobile Home Owners

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(Host)  Low income advocates and mobile home owners are calling for more help for trailer park residents affected by Tropical Storm Irene. 

They say many mobile home owners don’t have the resources to recover from the flooding, and so far government assistance isn’t enough.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind)  One in eight Vermonters lives in a mobile home – and Glenn French is among them.

A month ago, Irene’s floodwaters destroyed his home at Weston Mobile Home Park in Berlin.  And French says he won’t be coming back.   

(French) "All the fuel tanks here, every one of them was tipped over and diesel fuel ran out all over.  If I come down here on a rainy day, you can see a little scum right on top of the ground."

(Zind) French and his wife have been sleeping on a foldaway at their daughter’s house until they figure out what to do next. 

What’s next is on the minds of many owners of mobile homes hit by Irene.  

Unlike wood frame homes, repairing is often not an option for mobile home owners, because the materials they’re made from are more easily ruined by water.  Even if it can be repaired, it loses value. That’s the situation Sandra Gaffney faces.

(Gaffney) "I just bought my mobile home less than a year ago.  I have a mortgage I have to pay for 15 years on a mobile home that’s never, ever going to be anywhere near worth, if I could even sell it after being in a flood."

(Zind) Gaffney may qualify for FEMA help to fix her mobile home.  For the ones beyond repair, their owners are faced with the cost of removal. 

It’s estimated the flood destroyed nearly 150 mobile homes statewide.   Last week, state officials announced a deal to dispose of the structures at a cost of $1,500.  That’s less than the $3,500 owners had been quoted, but Weston Mobile Home Park resident Diane Graham says it’s a lot of money.  She says people who live in mobile home parks still have many questions one month after the flood.  

(Graham) "We need to find out who’s going to take these out of here, who’s going to pay for it and who’s going to help us find other housing."

(Zind)  It’s possible FEMA assistance could cover the cost of removing a condemned mobile home, but that means less money for other flood recovery expenses.

Shaun Gilpin directs the advocacy group Mobile Home Project.  He points out that FEMA assistance isn’t designed to cover all the costs of putting things back the way they were before a home was flooded.  He says many mobile home owners don’t have the financial resources to cover the rest.

(Gilpin) "As a type of housing that has typically remained more affordable than other housing types in Vermont we do a lot of retirees, a lot of fixed income and frankly a lot of working individuals who have a low income.  This is a pretty significant, life altering moment for them."

(Zind)  In some cases mobile home owners may not be allowed to return to flood prone locations because parks are often located in less valuable, low lying land.

Hal Cohen is Executive Director of Central Vermont Community Action Council. Cohen says some families may be able to borrow money to repair or replace their mobile homes, but for others the flood represents a permanent change.

(Cohen) "People are in the end going to have to find alternative housing, it may be public housing type rentals.  I don’t know what’s going to be the solution for some of those families."

(Zind) Mobile home residents and advocates say they want to make sure some of the money raised for disaster relief is used to help those whose mobile homes were lost or destroyed by flooding.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.

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